Genocide definitions

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Genocide definitions include many scholarly and international legal definitions of genocide, [1] a word coined with genos (Greek: birth, kind, race) and an English suffix -cide by Raphael Lemkin in 1944. [2] However, the precise etymology of the word is a compound of the ancient Greek word γένος (birth, genus, kind) or Latin word gēns (tribe, clan) and the Latin word caedō (cut, kill). While there are various definitions of the term, almost all international bodies of law officially adjudicate the crime of genocide pursuant to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). [3]


This and other definitions are generally regarded by the majority of genocide scholars to have an "intent to destroy" as a requirement for any act to be labelled genocide; there is also growing agreement on the inclusion of the physical destruction criterion. [4] Writing in 1998 Kurt Jonassohn and Karin Björnson stated that the CPPCG was a legal instrument resulting from a diplomatic compromise. As such the wording of the treaty is not intended to be a definition suitable as a research tool, and although it is used for this purpose, as it has an international legal credibility that others lack, other definitions have also been postulated. Jonassohn and Björnson go on to say that for various reasons, none of these alternative definitions have gained widespread support. [5]

List of definitions

1944 Raphael Lemkin, Polish lawyer of Jewish descent [6] By "genocide" we mean the destruction of an ethnic group…. Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups….

(Axis Rule in Occupied Europe ix. 79) [2] [7]

1945Count 3 of the indictment of the 24 Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg Trials They (the defendants) conducted deliberate and systematic genocide—viz., the extermination of racial and national groups—against the civilian populations of certain occupied territories in order to destroy particular races and classes of people, and national, racial or religious groups, particularly Jews, Poles, Gypsies and others. [8] [9]
1946Raphael LemkinThe crime of genocide should be recognized therein as a conspiracy to exterminate national, religious or racial groups. The overt acts of such a conspiracy may consist of attacks against life, liberty or property of members of such groups merely because of their affiliation with such groups. The formulation of the crime may be as follows: "Whoever, while participating in a conspiracy to destroy a national, racial or religious group, undertakes an attack against life, liberty or property of members of such groups is guilty of the crime of genocide. ("Genocide", American Scholar, Volume 15, no. 2 (April 1946), p. 227–230) [9]
1946 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 96 (I) (11 December)Genocide is a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings; such denial of the right of existence shocks the conscience of mankind, …and is contrary to moral law and to the spirit and aims of the United Nations. …

The General Assembly, therefore, affirms that genocide is a crime under international law…whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds… [10]

1948The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948 and came into effect on 12 January 1951 (Resolution 260 (III)). Article 2:Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (Article 2 CPPCG)
1959Pieter N. Drost, Dutch law professor [11] Genocide is the deliberate destruction of physical life of individual human beings by reason of their membership of any human collectivity as such. (The Crime of State, Volume 2, Leiden, 1959, p. 125.) [12] [13]
1975 Vahakn Dadrian, Armenian sociologistGenocide is the successful attempt by a dominant group, vested with formal authority and/or with preponderant access to the overall resources of power, to reduce by coercion or lethal violence the number of a minority group whose ultimate extermination is held desirable and useful and whose respective vulnerability is a major factor contributing to the decision for genocide. (A Typology of Genocide) [14]
1976 Irving Louis Horowitz, sociologist [11] [Genocide is] a structural and systematic destruction of innocent people by a state bureaucratic apparatus. …Genocide represents a systematic effort over time to liquidate a national population, usually a minority…[and] functions as a fundamental political policy to assure conformity and participation of the citizenry. (Genocide: State Power and Mass Murder) [15]
1981 Leo Kuper, genocide scholar [16] I shall follow the definition of genocide given in the [UN] Convention. This is not to say that I agree with the definition. On the contrary, I believe a major omission to be in the exclusion of political groups from the list of groups protected. In the contemporary world, political differences are at the very least as significant a basis for massacre and annihilation as racial, national, ethnic or religious differences. Then too, the genocides against racial, national, ethnic or religious groups are generally a consequence of, or intimately related to, political conflict. However, I do not think it helpful to create new definitions of genocide, when there is an internationally recognized definition and a Genocide Convention which might become the basis for some effective action, however limited the underlying conception. But since it would vitiate the analysis to exclude political groups, I shall refer freely…to liquidating or exterminatory actions against them. (Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century) [17]
1982 Jack Nusan Porter, Ukrainian American sociologistGenocide is the deliberate destruction, in whole or in part, by a government or its agents, of a racial, sexual, religious, tribal or political minority. It can involve not only mass murder, but also starvation, forced deportation, and political, economic and biological subjugation. Genocide involves three major components: ideology, technology, and bureaucracy/organization. [18]
1984 Yehuda Bauer, Israeli historian and Holocaust scholar[Genocide is] the planned destruction, since the mid-nineteenth century, of a racial, national, or ethnic group as such, by the following means: (a) selective mass murder of elites or parts of the population; (b) elimination of national (racial, ethnic) culture and religious life with the intent of "denationalization"; (c) enslavement, with the same intent; (d) destruction of national (racial, ethnic) economic life, with the same intent; (e) biological decimation through the kidnapping of children, or the prevention of normal family life, with the same intent…. [Holocaust is] the planned physical annihilation, for ideological or pseudo-religious reasons, of all the members of a national, ethnic, or racial group. [18] [19]
1987Tony Barta, historianMy conception of a genocidal society—as distinct from a genocidal state—is one in which the bureaucratic apparatus might officially be directed to protect innocent people but in which a whole race is nevertheless subject to remorseless pressures of destruction inherent in the very nature of the society. ("Relations of Genocide: Land and Lives in the Colonization of Australia", pp. 239–240.) [20] (see also Australian genocide debate)
1987Isidor Wallimann and Michael N. DobkowskiGenocide is the deliberate, organized destruction, in whole or in large part, of racial or ethnic groups by a government or its agents. It can involve not only mass murder, but also forced deportation (ethnic cleansing), systematic rape, and economic and biological subjugation. (Genocide and the Modern Age: Etiology and Case Studies of Mass Death. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. Reissue of an early work.) [21]
1988Henry HuttenbachGenocide is any act that puts the very existence of a group in jeopardy. ("Locating the Holocaust on the Genocide Spectrum: Towards a Methodology of Definition and Categorization", Holocaust and Genocide Studies . Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 289–303.) [22] [23]
1988 Helen Fein, sociologistGenocide is a series of purposeful actions by a perpetrator(s) to destroy a collectivity through mass or selective murders of group members and suppressing the biological and social reproduction of the collectivity. This can be accomplished through the imposed proscription or restriction of reproduction of group members, increasing infant mortality, and breaking the linkage between reproduction and socialization of children in the family or group of origin. The perpetrator may represent the state of the victim, another state, or another collectivity. (Genocide: A Sociological Perspective, London) [13] [22]
1988 Barbara Harff and Ted Gurr, professors of political sciencethe promotion and execution of policies by a state or its agents which result in the deaths of a substantial portion of a group …[when] the victimized groups are defined primarily in terms of their communal characteristics, i.e., ethnicity, religion or nationality. ("Toward Empirical Theory of Genocides and Politicides", International Studies Quarterly, 37:3, 1988) [24]
1990Frank Chalk and Kurt JonassohnGenocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator. (The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, Yale University Press) [22] [25] [26]
1990John L. P. Thompson and Gail A. QuetsIn short, given the problems which arise from restrictions, we define genocide as the destruction of a group by purposive action. This allows the role of intentional action to be explored, different subtypes of genocide to be compared, and the impact of different factors on genocide to be examined empirically. (Genocide and Social Conflict: A Partial Theory and Comparison, p. 248) [27]
1993Helen FeinGenocide is sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim. (Genocide: A Sociological Perspective, 1993/1990) [24] [28]
1994 Steven T. Katz, American philosopher and scholar[Genocide is] the actualization of the intent, however successfully carried out, to murder in its totality any national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, social, gender or economic group, as these groups are defined by the perpetrator, by whatever means. (The Holocaust in Historical Perspective, Vol. 1, 1994) [Modified by Adam Jones in 2000 to read, "murder in whole or in substantial part…"] [25] [28]
1994 Israel W. Charny, psychologist and genocide scholarGenocide in the generic sense means the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defencelessness of the victim. (Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions ed. George Andreopoulos) [25] [28] [29]
1996 Irving Louis Horowitz, sociologistGenocide is herein defined as a structural and systematic destruction of innocent people by a state bureaucratic apparatus…. Genocide mean the physical dismemberment and liquidation of people on large scales, an attempt by those who rule to achieve the total elimination of a subject people. [28] [30]
2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Article 6 of the Rome Statute provides that "genocide" means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
2003Barbara HarffGenocides and politicides are the promotion, execution, and/or implied consent of sustained policies by governing elites or their agents—or, in the case of civil war either of the contending authorities—that are intended to destroy, in whole or part, a communal, political, or politicized ethnic group. [28]
2005Mark Levene, historianGenocide occurs when a state, perceiving the integrity of its agenda to be threatened by an aggregate population—defined by the state as an organic collectivity, or series of collectivities—seeks to remedy the situation by the systematic, en masse physical elimination of that aggregate, in toto, or until it is no longer perceived to represent a threat. [31] [32]
2007 Martin Shaw, sociologistGenocide is a form of violent social conflict or war, between armed power organizations that aim to destroy civilian social groups and those groups and other actors who resist this destruction. Genocidal action is action in which armed power organizations treat civilian social groups as enemies and aim to destroy their real or putative social power, by means of killing, violence and coercion against individuals whom they regard as members of the groups. [33] [34]
2011 Uğur Ümit Üngör Genocide can be defined as a complex process of systematic persecution and annihilation of a group of people by a government... We can speak of genocide when individuals are persecuted and murdered merely on the basis of their presumed or imputed membership in a group rather than on their individual characteristics or participation in certain acts. [35]
2013Adrian GallagherGenocide is when a collective source of power (usually a State) intentionally uses its power base to implement a process of destruction in order to destroy a group (as defined by the perpetrator), in whole or in substantial part, dependent upon relative group size. [36]
2017John Cox, historianGenocide is the concerted, coordinated effort to destroy any human group or collectivity as it is defined by the perpetrator.

Genocide differs from other mass crimes against humanity and atrocities by its ambition. Genocide aims to not only eliminate individual members of the targeted group but to destroy the group’s ability to maintain its social and cultural cohesion and, thus, its existence as a group. Because perpetrators very rarely provide explicit statements of genocidal intent, this intent can be uncovered by examining policies, actions, and outcomes, as well as the guiding ideology. [37]


  1. Based on a list by Adam Jones ( Jones 2006 , pp. 15–18)
  2. 1 2 Oxford English Dictionary "Genocide" citing Raphael Lemkin Axis Rule in Occupied Europe ix. 79
  3. Dunoff, Ratner & Wippman 2006, pp. 615–621.
  4. Jones 2006, pp. 20–21, 24.
  5. Jonassohn & Björnson 1998, pp. 133–135.
  6. Chalk 1997, p. 47.
  7. Orentlicher 2001, Genocide.
  8. Oxford English Dictionary "Genocide" citing Sunday Times 21 October 1945
  9. 1 2 Lemkin 1946, pp. 227–230.
  10. "United Nations General Assembly Resolution 96 (I): The Crime of Genocide" (PDF). United Nations. 11 December 1946. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  11. 1 2 Chalk 1997, p. 48.
  12. Jones 2006, p. 15.
  13. 1 2 Kieser & Schaller 2001.
  14. Jones 2006, pp. 14, 15.
  15. Jones 2006, pp. 14, 16.
  16. Charny 1997, p. 64.
  17. Jones 2006, pp. 3, 14, 16.
  18. 1 2 Jones 2006, p. 16.
  19. Adam Jones notes that Bauer distinguishes between "genocide" and "holocaust" ( Jones 2006 , p. 16)
  20. Barta 1987, pp. 237–252.
  21. Jones 2006, pp. 17, 32.
  22. 1 2 3 Jones 2006, p. 17.
  23. Bilinsky 1999, pp. 147–156.
  24. 1 2 McGill staff 2007, What is Genocide?.
  25. 1 2 3 ISG staff 2001, Definitions of Genocide.
  26. Chalk & Jonassohn 1990, p. 35.
  27. Thompson & Quets 1990, pp. 245–266.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 Jones 2006, p. 18.
  29. Charny 1997, p. 76.
  30. Adam Jones notes that Horowitz supports "carefully distinguishing the [Jewish] Holocaust from genocide"; and that Horowitz also refers to "the phenomenon of mass murder, for which genocide is a synonym".
  31. Levene 2005, p. 35.
  32. Jones 2016, p. 96.
  33. Shaw & Schott 2007, p. 154.
  34. Jones 2016, pp. 96–97.
  35. Üngör, Uğur Ümit (2011). "Team America: Genocide Prevention?". Genocide Studies and Prevention. 6 (1): 32–38. doi:10.3138/gsp.6.1.32.
  36. Gallagher 2013, p. 37.
  37. Cox, To Kill a People: Genocide in the 20th Century (New York: OUP, 2021, 2nd edition),, p. 17.

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